Most people who travel abroad have “that” country. You know the one. Passersby shot you dirty looks, the concierge was unhelpful and the cab drivers — well, we won’t even get started on them.
Negative experiences during international travel are common—but as Skyscanner revealed last month, they are particularly common in certain countries. The British online travel site conducted a survey to determine “The World’s Rudest Nations for Travelers.” Forbes published an article about the poll last week.
The problem with this poll (other than the purportedly biased voting contingent) is that it uses the subjective term ‘rude’ to qualify various nationalities. This fails to take cultural differences and local customs into account.
Besides that, inappropriate or offensive behavior by the tourist often precludes negative encounters with the local population. Before traveling to a foreign country, a first-time visitor should research the cultural norms of his or her destination.
The digital age has changed the way people circle the globe. In the old days, we consulted a travel agent. Now, we go online to research where we are headed — and communicate with people who live there.
Readers may chuckle at Skyscanner’s poll results and Forbes’ article, but they should not be dissuaded from traveling to these supposedly impolite countries. Thanks to the widespread popularity of social media, mitigating rudeness in any foreign country is easy as clicking a mouse.
Though the Chinese government still prohibits the use of popular western social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, the advent of blogging has become quite popular with that country’s citizens. Many of these blogging platforms aim to introduce Chinese culture to foreign web users and, in the process, dispel myths about the country’s reported rudeness.
China is a nation of formalities, and one’s inability or refusal to observe certain customs could potentially offend many people.
One key Chinese concept is mianzi, or ‘face,’ which is a formal term for self-respect. In China, to yell at, criticize or otherwise shame another person in public — or cause them to ‘lose face’ — is considered a grave social taboo. “In order to get a successful effect without letting a Chinese lose face,” states China Travel Tour Guide, “any criticism should be delivered privately, discreetly and tactfully.”
Perceived rudeness in China is often linked to keqi. Though the term translates to ‘politeness,’ it takes on a negative connotation when used as a human quality, because it implies that one is using a polite demeanor to mask more contemptuous feelings.
“Where a Westerner in China may think a Chinese person is being brusque, they are actually just avoiding excessive keqi,” states Beijing-Visitor. “As Chinese people become closer friends, so they drop the keqi, to the extent that it’s perfectly acceptable for good friends to make the most frankly critical remarks to each other’s faces. This is not being rude, it’s a sign of trust.”
For many travelers to China, the headaches begin long before the actual trip. The country’s notorious visa application system has hindered many from traveling there, while those who overcome the visa process begin their travels in a negative frame of mind.
Thankfully, ChinaTravel.net offers a comprehensive, up-to-date guide to this complicated visa process. The site is also an extensive resource of places to visit, stay, eat and drink throughout the country (including Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and Tibet), complete with an informative sightseeing blog.
Note: On the Skyscanner poll, China earned the fifth place slot. In the reprint by Forbes, number 5 was awarded to “Other,” an ambiguous entry that likely represents the 136 nationalities not included in the poll. Forbes reports that “Other” earned 6.37 percent of the vote, while Chinese citizens earned 4.3 percent.
Germany annually hosts nearly 27 million international tourists, and the country has enjoyed a friendly reputation over the years. The results of the Skyscanner poll, however, leave us with the question: Are Germans really so über-friendly?
Wunderbar! blogger and German resident Barbara Geier breaks down some of the nation’s most common stereotypes.
Though Hamburg residents are often characterized as snooty, Geier notes that her encounters with people from that city were, “(almost) all refreshingly pleasant.”
And while Berliners are stereotyped as rude, she puts it a different way: “They just like to say it as it is. Straightforward, very direct, and sometimes, well yes, maybe that can come across as a bit harsh.”
In the German language, pronouns are crucial. Native speakers use two forms of the word ‘you’: sie, used in formal situations among business associates, as well as strangers; and du, a familiar expression for friends and family. “Using a familiar, first-name approach in the wrong situation could be insulting or demeaning,” notes the cultural blog, The German Way & More.
In social situations, German people may come off as reserved and direct at the same time. “They will take their time to warm towards you, whilst speaking their mind almost immediately,” notes AboutGermany.org, adding that foreign visitors should not mistake this frankness for personal insult.
As many travelers know, Germany has a well-established drinking culture—especially where beer is concerned. Not surprisingly, the beer garden is a popular social institution in Germany. Heimburger’s European Travel encourages foreign visitors to find an empty seat and start a conversation with the strangers next to them, adding that making friends in Germany is as easy as proposing a toast.
“The most important rule when toasting with others at your table is to do it as often as possible, so creating a sense of community and giving you the chance to make contact with your new friends,” the site advises. “But don’t forget to look your drinking partners in the eye as you touch steins.”